This has been a very social disaster. I first heard about the quake on Twitter, and when friends started checking in, they did so on Facebook. Even when the phones and electricity stopped working, social networks carried on, largely because they could be accessed via mobile phones. It’s where people shared their stories–staying overnight with 200 students in Fukushima because they couldn’t get home, walking for 2-7 hours to get home from evacuated offices in Tokyo (no trains), trying to track down milk and bread in grocery stores, breaking into tears after finally getting out of the disaster area and getting a bath (there’s no water, either, for much of the region).
Members of Association of Foreign Wives of Japanese (AFWJ) and Japan Association of Language Teachers (JALT) have been actively using their online networks (and mobile phones) to confirm the safety of members and non-members alike, offering support, and practical information and assistance. I am extremely proud to be a member.
Individuals I’ve read about who are planning to head to Japan, camera in hand. Please don’t. Relief groups are already having trouble getting into Tohoku—transportation is a mess. There isn’t enough food, or gas, there’s still no water and limited electricity. Even if you speak Japanese fluently, you will be a drain on already stretched resources. If you don’t know Japanese, you will be worse than a drain. There are plenty of other equally stupid things you can do to get your 15 minutes of fame on YouTube. Please consider choosing one of them instead.
Online resources for earthquake information
Olive English is a wikipedia-style website with information for quake survivors. It is editable, so if you have something useful to add to its resources, you can.
There are two groups on Facebook that are doing a great job of disseminating information for non-Japanese speakers. One is HOPE: Disaster News Straight from Japan for English Speakers. It’s exactly what it sounds like–a collection of news sites and translations of news items. Yuko Nagata and Akane Itoh administer the group, and are hoping that more people will contribute resources as they find them.
Jun Shiromitsu has been translating Japanese messages from Twitter of eye-witness accounts of the quake and its aftermath. 140 characters communicates a lot more in Japanese than it does in English, so Twitter has been a great source of information about the quake and people’s experiences, especially since so many in Japan use Twitter from their mobile phones. There are some wonderful feel-good stories on Jun’s page to balance out all the dreadfulness.
If you are on Twitter, Maki Itoh (@makiwi) has been providing nearly continuous translations of news as it is reported on TV. If you aren’t on Twitter, you can still read what she’s sharing by visiting her Twitter page (click on her Twitter ID above to take you there)—the live stream is always visible there.
What you can do to help
Generally, it’s difficult to donate directly to Japanese aid organizations. Most donations are done through postal or bank transfers, not credit cards. One group that is helping to funnel donations to local groups is the Japan Center for International Exchange (JCIE/USA). If you have a favorite international organization (Red Cross, Salvation Army, Save the Children, Humane Society, etc.) you can go ahead and donate to them. They are probably going to be helping here, either by channeling funds to a partner Japanese organization or by working on the ground in Tohoku. You can always check their homepages to see how they plan on helping. Inter Action has some good advice on their page about the best ways to help. As there are more ways to help, I will update my information.
Send a message of hope and encouragement
I’ve received a lot of queries from teachers and students who want to do something for children in Japan. It’s wonderful to see how many people care about people here. Right now, the relief effort is focused on rescuing the living, identifying the dead, avoiding a nuclear disaster, and getting essentials to the isolated. Identifying Japanese schools that need help is quite far down the list of priorities. In the meantime, ELT News has created a page where you can leave a message to let students (and others) in Japan know that you care about them: We love you, Japan! ELT News has a Japanese network in place in order to get news to Japanese teachers and students (and parents) so this is the best way I can think of to be sure that you message reaches the people you intend to see it.
That’s all I have for today, except for this video that was on YouTube earlier. It’s closer than I ever hope to be to a tsunami.